A sundial discovered outside a tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings may be the world’s oldest ancient Egyptian sundials, say scientists.
Dating to the 19th dynasty, or the 13th century B.C., the sundial was found on the floor of a workman’s hut, in the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of rulers from Egypt’s New Kingdom period (around 1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C.).
“The significance of this piece is that it is roughly one thousand years older than what was generally accepted as time when this type of time measuring device was used,” said researcher Susanne Bickel, of the University of Basel in Switzerland. Past sundial discoveries date to the Greco-Roman period, which lasted from about 332 B.C. to A.D. 395.
The sundial is made of a flattened piece of limestone, called an ostracon, with a black semicircle divided into 12 sections drawn on top. Small dots in the middle of each of the 12 sections, which are about 15 degrees apart, likely served to give more precise times.
A dent in the center of the ostracon likely marks where a metal or wooden bolt was inserted to cast a shadow and reveal the time of day.
“The piece was found with other ostraca (limestone chips) on which small inscriptions, workmen’s sketches, and the illustration of a deity were written or painted in black ink,” Bickel told LiveScience in an email.
Bickel and her colleagues aren’t sure for what purpose the workmen would’ve used the sundial, though they suggest it may have represented the sun god’s journey through the underworld.
“One hypothesis would be to see this measuring device in parallel to the illustrated texts that were inscribed on the walls of the pharaohs’ tombs and where the representation of the night and the journey of the sun god through the netherworld is divided into the individual hours of the night,” Bickel wrote. “The sundial might have been used to visualize the length of the hours.”
The device may have also been used to measure work hours. “I wondered whether it could have served to regulate the workmen’s working time, to set the break at a certain time, for example,” she said. However, Bickel noted, a half-hour wouldn’t mean much to these people.
In the same area, Bickel and her colleagues have made several amazing discoveries, including a tomb with two burials, one from Egypt’s 18th dynasty and the other from the 22nd dynasty, which was brought into the tomb some time after the pillaging of the first burial. A wooden coffin linked to the secondary burial contained the mummy of a chantress of Amun called Nehmes-Bastet. The scientists are not sure who would’ve been buried in the original tomb, though they found remains of a mummy without linen bandages on the floor of the structure. “This badly broken mummy is probably the original first owner of the tomb,” write the researchers
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At least 35 small pyramids, along with graves, have been discovered clustered closely together at a site called Sedeinga in Sudan.
Discovered between 2009 and 2012, researchers are surprised at how densely the pyramids are concentrated. In one field season alone, in 2011, the research team discovered 13 pyramids packed into roughly 5,381 square feet (500 square meters), or slightly larger than an NBA basketball court.
They date back around 2,000 years to a time when a kingdom named Kush flourished in Sudan. Kush shared a border with Egypt and, later on, the Roman Empire. The desire of the kingdom’s people to build pyramids was apparently influenced by Egyptian furniture.
At Sedeinga, researchers say, pyramid building continued for centuries. “The density of the pyramids is huge,” said researcher Vincent Francigny, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an interview with LiveScience. “Because it lasted for hundreds of years they built more, more, more pyramids and after centuries they started to fill all the spaces that were still available in the necropolis.”
A rare scarab amulet newly unearthed in Tel Aviv reveals the ancient Egyptian presence in this modern Israeli city.
Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, have long uncovered evidence of Egyptian influence. Now, researchers have learned that a gateway belonging to an Egyptian fortification in Jaffa was destroyed and rebuilt at least four times. They have also found the scarab, which bears the cartouche of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled from 1390 to 1353 B.C. Scarabs were common charms in ancient Egypt, representing the journey of the sun across the sky and the cycle of life.
Jaffa was the site of major trading activity since the second millennium B.C. Excavations in the 1950s uncovered the Egyptian fortification, which dates back to the dynasty of Ramses II between 1279 and 1213 B.C. Mud brick architecture and household pottery also point to Egyptian influence, according to researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany and the University of California, Los Angeles, who have been conducting new explorations at the site.
Jaffa has long been a crossroads for international influence. The city is also the site of a rare marble slab from the era of the Crusades. The slab, which dates back 800 years, bears an inscription in unusual Arabic script referring to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade in 1228 in an effort to conquer the Holy Land, and managed to gain the territory through diplomacy instead of violence.